Mr. Wilson

“In 1889 the New York State Legislature established in Plattsburgh a school for the education of teachers, the New York State Normal and Training School.  Two years later the first three students graduated from the institution that would one day evolve into SUNY Plattsburgh”  (2007 Middle States PRR report).  The motto for the college is, “A Proud Past, A Strong Future.”  I thought about our past and this motto in the context of an open forum I sat in last week that addressed an offensive cartoon published by an independent, student-run newspaper (i.e., There was no editorial role by a faculty member before the paper was published due to first amendment rights).  The paper wounded and exposed deeper wounds, some of which are caused by institutional racism in our society, and, as a result, has served as a catalyst for understanding and a call to action.  The standing-room-only forum was held by the Black Student Union, AKEBA, to discuss what happened.  So many things crossed my mind and touched my heart at the forum and I will share a few.

I thought about:

  • James Augustus Wilson (pictured above), who began his studies in teacher education at our college in 1898 and was the first African American to attend and graduate from our college. He was an alum who went on to get a second bachelor’s degree in divinity at Wesleyan University in Connecticut and eventually worked with Booker T. Washington (Skopp, 1989);
  • LaVerne Baker, one of my mentors, who was one of two African American women to be the first to graduate with Ph.D.s from my alma mater, Wichita State University; if you have been in my office, you have seen her picture on my desk;
  • how Mr. Wilson and Dr. Baker would each define current events and what has and has not changed in the last 117 years;
  • my white privilege and the period of my younger life when I was naive to it, something that is the case for many young, white college students and on another level by others who are not so young in our community;
  • the voices from all underrepresented groups that need to be present to have a complete conversation about equality and social justice because there are differences in the struggles of each group (i.e., one group does not speak for all groups);
  • the young men of Delta Sigma Phi who I sat with at the forum as a faculty advisor, who have one of the more racially diverse groups on campus and a shared value of diversity –  I saw the pain in their eyes and felt it in their hearts;
  • how the members of AKEBA, the Black Student Union, modeled how to have difficult conversations that value the need to feel uncomfortable while maintaining everyone’s dignity; and
  • how I loved the gathering of diverse students at the forum, a sentiment that went beyond racial diversity, but hated the reason we were there.

That is a sampling of a few thoughts I had during the forum, but I also had another thought that night that centered on what I shared in our EHHS Community Gathering at the beginning of this semester.  It was during that gathering that I discussed the New Civil Rights Movement.  I highlighted words from Gyasi Ross, a Native American from the Blackfeet Nation who is an author, speaker, lawyer and storyteller.

Gyasi Ross

Here are the words I shared from Gyasi Ross (2015):

  • “If folks truly want to be allies then they’re going to have to get cool with uncomfortable conversations.”
  • “White folks don’t ever want to talk about race.  It will ALWAYS be jarring, it will ALWAYS be disruptive and it will ALWAYS be inconvenient. Yet, we have to do it.”
  • “If they truly wish to be an effective ally, then they should WANT to feel the discomfort that we feel when we’re constantly confronted with questions of race.”

There was a lot of discomfort felt over the past week, and this is a good thing.  Looking back, Gyasi Ross’ words were the most powerful words I shared at the beginning of the semester that have defined where we are now in the conversations taking place on campus.  I am pleased that the conversations have resulted in the actions detailed by our President that will enhance the caring environment we value at SUNY Plattsburgh.

I look forward to leaning into more discomfort and invite everyone else to lean with me because I know this is the place where we all grow.  We do have a proud past at SUNY Plattsburgh.  We also are engaged in conversations to know better and actions to do better that create a powerful present and a strong future.

Crucial Reading: This article from the International Journal of Critical Pedagogy is your opportunity to lean into the conversation with me: White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

Maya Do better 2

                                                EHHS Shared Values Highlighted

Inclusion/Culturally Responsive

  • Demonstrated awareness, knowledge, and skills
  • Culturally responsive teaching
  • Self-reflection
  • Caring attitude
  • Courage to discuss sensitive issues and “sit with discomfort”
  • Continued learning, challenging and changing of our attitudes

Social Justice

  • Recognize social justice issues
  • Advocate to enhance social change
  • Enhance community responsibility/social responsibility

References

DiAngelo, R. (2011). White fragility. International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, 3 (3) pp 54-70.

Maya Angelou Image (n.d.). Retrieved November 1, 2015 from http://www.azquotes.com/quote/394295

Middle States Commission on Higher Education Periodic Review Report (2007).

Ross, G. (2015): http://www.thestranger.com/blogs/slog/2015/08/13/22694043/guest-editorial-i-support-bernie-sanders-for-president-and-i-also-support-the-black-lives-matter-takeover-in-seattle

Skopp, D. (1989). Bright with promise: From the normal and training school to SUNY Plattsburgh. Norfolk, Virginia: The Donning Company/Publishers.